Amazing story of Liz Hartel

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Liz Hartel, ordinary name of extraordinary woman. As first, she broke the gender barrier in Olympic horse riding being completely paralysed from knees down. 


Liz was not only the first woman who took part in Olympic Games, but also the one who got a gold Olympic medal. Thanks to her equestrian achievements, despite her invalidity, she became a great authority for horse lovers.

Back then, she surely was causing enormous impression.

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Born on March 14, 1921 in Hellerup (Denmark). She was a normal girl, who grew up under her mother’s care. A spooner for horses, especially dressage riding. She married when she was 20 (as you’ve probably already guessed) a horseman ;). During second pregnancy she fell ill with polio. Liz was practically wholly paralysed. It was only after giving labour when she had decided to take up a slow process of rehabilitation, which would allow her for normal functioning and return to her beloved horse riding. She had to learn again how to control her body. After years of struggle she almost regained full control. Only her legs, from knees down, remained paralysed for the rest of her life.

29 Oct 1954, New York, New York, USA --- Mrs. Lis Hartel, Danish horsewoman who is the 1954 world's champion dressage champion in both the men's and women's classes, is shown her during a practice session at Squadron Armory in New York for her appearance in the 66th National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden, November 2-9. Mrs. Hartel, who was stricken with polio in 1944 must still be helped into and out of the saddle. Photo shows Mrs. Hartel being helped to dismount by her groom. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

After 3 years of hard work in the year 1947 she took part in Scandinavian Equestrian Championships and finished it second. Her result would grant her qualification to the Olympic Games in 1948, unfortunately bach then women were not allowed to participate. The gender barrier was broken and Liz could represent Denmark on the Olympic Games in Helsinki. She won a silver medal.

Because of her invalidity she wasn’t able to dismount the horse on her own in order to stand on the podium (she was always assisted by her husband). Then-gold-medalist Henri Saint Cyr (Sweden) picked her up and carried so she could take her prize. That was one of the most emotional moments in the history of Olympic Games.


Liz on the podium in 1952 

Another silver medal was won by Liz in 1956 in Stockholm and a gold one on non-official World Championships in 1954. She was a seven-time Denmark champion.

Liz passed away in 2009, after 75 years of activity in horse riding, when she was 87. She helped change the view on women and invalid people in horse riding. She became a living inspiration in overcoming obstacles.


Liz with daughter and Jubilee